As the final month before the World Series of Poker gets ready to swing into play, Michael 'The Grinder' Mizrachi's continued dominance of the Poker Player of the Year race is THE story of 2006.
In looking back at his performance to this point in 2006, Mizrachi has simply demonstrated that he is one of the preeminent players on the tournament circuit today. His back to back runner-up and winning performances in World Poker Tour events early in the year have only been part of the story, though. He has made six final tables all totaled in 2006, which places him near the top of the heap in that category, and has cashed in eight events.
What is remarkable about these numbers is that they aren't just in major tournaments. Mizrachi has shown that he has the same competitive drive in tournaments whether they are Main Events or the smaller (cash-wise) preliminary tournaments. Witness his most recent cash at the WPT Mandalay Bay Poker Championship, where he placed thirteenth out of a field of 202 players in the $1,500 event; most of the "high profile" players in the tournament world don't compete in smaller events, which not only gives "The Grinder" opportunities to extend his POY lead but also allow him to add more cash to his ever expanding bankroll. It is with a great deal of hope that Michael continues to show this same enthusiasm for poker and continue on playing as many events as he can!
Still seated in second place is "The California Cowboy", Kenna James. James, however, is in danger of losing sight of "The Grinder" in the overall race and has pursuers creeping up behind him. He hasn't cashed or earned points in the POY race since his second place finish in the PartyPoker Millions V in March and has fallen almost 1,700 points back of Mizrachi in the past couple of months. James, however, should be primed for the World Series, which begins at the end of June, and should be one of the people who can make a run at the top of the leader board during that event.
WPT Champion Joe Bartholdi has settled in at third place but professional Nam Le jumps up the Top Ten list this month. May was a good month for the Huntington Beach, CA professional as he earned three cashes and two final tables during the month. The points earned from those events has allowed Nam to move up to the fourth place slot only 111 points back of Bartholdi and slightly over 300 points back of James. With another strong final table finish in June (and no action from either of the gentlemen ahead of him), Le would work his way into the second slot and could present a serious threat to making a run at Mizrachi.
Two time winner during the Mirage Poker Showdown (including the WPT $10K Main Event) Stanley Weiss debuts in the Top Ten this month. With those performances, Weiss was able to surge past fellow WPT tournament winners Alan Goehring (who also performed well at the Mirage) and Victor Ramdin. While these men capture the fifth through seventh place slots, they are a part of the shuffle that also includes Erick Lindgren (eighth), David Daneshgar (ninth) and Top Ten newcomer Norm Ketchum, Jr. (tenth). You could throw a blanket over these six men, as they are only separated by less than 300 points and they also have serious competition climbing up the ladder behind them.
The big movers in the month of May had to be 2004 WSOP Championship Event runner-up David Williams and the older brother of our POY leader, Robert Mizrachi. Both men made strong runs at the Mirage Poker Showdown championship as they both were at the televised WPT final table. Those performances have earned them the twelfth (Mizrachi) and fourteenth (Williams) slots and should situate them to make some further noise as the next seven months play out. Also lurking just off the Top Ten are veteran professionals Bill Edler, Barry Greenstein, Scotty Nguyen and David Plastik. All of these veterans have shown remarkable consistency and, with the World Series looming large on the horizon, should be able to jump up the POY list.
There are three significant tournaments in June that will set the standings for the field as we head to the World Series. The WPT has two of them, with the debut of the Mandalay Bay Poker Championship and the perennial stop in Paris at the Aviation Club for the Grand Prix de Paris. The World Series of Poker Circuit's final stop of the 2005-6 season will be in Lake Tahoe which will not only end the Circuit's season but also offers the final opportunity for players to earn their way into the WSOP Tournament of Champions (which will take place just before the start of full blown action in the WSOP). And, of course, the World Series' six weeks of action will more than likely change the POY list completely once it is finished in August. One thing we should be able to count on is that Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi should still be at the top of the Player of the Year race…then the real battle can begin!
Ed note: The Grinder plays online poker at Absolute Poker